Skip

Regarding Blood And Oil
April 13, 2005 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Whereas, in the past, national power was thought to reside in the possession of a mighty arsenal and the maintenance of extended alliance systems, it is now associated with economic dynamism and the cultivation of technological innovation. To exercise leadership in the current epoch, states are expected to possess a vigorous domestic economy and to outperform other states in the development and export of high-tech goods. While a potent military establishment is still considered essential to national security, it must be balanced by a strong and vibrant economy. 'National security depends on successful engagement in the global economy,' the Institute for National Security Studies observed in a recent Pentagon study.

Regarding Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency by Michael T. Klare, here is an excerpt from the book and here is his most recent article--Oil and the Coming War With Iran. Well, at least he has been consistent--consider The Geopolitics of War, Wars Without End, Oiling the Wheels of War, and Imperial Reach from his articles for The Nation alone. Here is an excerpt from his previous Resource Wars and here is Scraping the bottom of the barrel and Bush-Cheney Energy Strategy: Procuring the Rest of the World's Oil. Well, as to his position on current events, I don't think we need to draw a picture here.
posted by y2karl (52 comments total)

 


Just as frightning and part of the big picture is the Project for the New American Century. Here is a short Quicktime summary of the project.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:54 AM on April 13, 2005



posted by dfowler at 11:56 AM on April 13, 2005


This reminds me, has the minutes to Cheney's secret meeting with all the oil company executives ever been released?

Great work y2karl.

Everyone, do your part to reduce your dependence of fossil fuels.
posted by nofundy at 11:59 AM on April 13, 2005



posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:00 PM on April 13, 2005


There's also a very good book by David Goodstein of Caltech and entitled
Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil
. The previous linked article is adapted from a talk he gave that essentially was a summary of the book. He argues that by many accounts we've already hit the inflection point on oil production vs oil consumption and we could be out within a decade. And thus oil conservation doesn't really matter. Instead, newer inexhaustible energy supplies must be found.

Oil is so last millennium. Bring on the fusion.
posted by todbot at 12:02 PM on April 13, 2005


karl, next time just post a single link to a flash site with dancing penguins, you'll make the peanut gallery much happier
posted by matteo at 12:03 PM on April 13, 2005


Good post Y2karl.
posted by tkchrist at 12:11 PM on April 13, 2005


karl, next time just post a single link to a flash site with dancing penguins, you'll make the peanut gallery much happier

If you don't like the peanut gallery then don't read their comments. Sound familar?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:14 PM on April 13, 2005


[Rather than create yet another MeTa callout, I am posting this image in protest of your gigantic fpps.]
posted by dfowler at 11:56 AM PST on April 13 [!]

Vs a small fpp that has one link?

Keep taking shots at the messenger if ya don't like the message.

Oh, and Gharwar is dying.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:16 PM on April 13, 2005


Whereas, in the past, national power was thought to reside in the possession of a mighty arsenal and the maintenance of extended alliance systems, it is now associated with economic dynamism and the cultivation of technological innovation. To exercise leadership in the current epoch, states are expected to possess a vigorous domestic economy and to outperform other states in the development and export of high-tech goods. While a potent military establishment is still considered essential to national security, it must be balanced by a strong and vibrant economy. 'National security depends on successful engagement in the global economy,' the Institute for National Security Studies observed in a recent Pentagon study.

There is no link in the above fpp text, rough ashlar. How about "[more inside]".
posted by dfowler at 12:22 PM on April 13, 2005


Once again, cheers, Y2k for a good read. This, plus the impending peak oil induced economic meltdown smells like a whole lotta no good.

On a related note, I'm curious if anyone's written on the topic of domestic rammifications of these issues to individual and institutional investors. I'm starting to think that buying up inner city land and heavy rail stock might be a good idea.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2005


Buying up fertile farmland and associated fruit trees, seeds, animals and implements may be a better idea than urban land. Growing food will be very labor intensive without fossil fuels and food will be very expensive.
posted by nofundy at 12:41 PM on April 13, 2005


pieisexactlythree, here is the book you are looking for.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:44 PM on April 13, 2005


Nations are sooo last millenium.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:47 PM on April 13, 2005


dfowler, I personally prefer this type of post to the more Dadaistic posts some are fond of, but I just tend to just avoid those posts I don't like. I thought that was your philosophy on the matter, too.
posted by blendor at 12:53 PM on April 13, 2005


(-1 'just' above)

Chomsky summarizes neatly in a recent blog post:
They preferred Iraq. The reasons are pretty obvious, and largely have to do with oil, and the “critical leverage” control of energy gives Washington over its European and Asian rivals, as Brzezinski put it, echoing strategic conceptions that go back to the early postwar period.
posted by blendor at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2005


Aren't the oil reserves just a liquid timer until the rapture?
posted by Mr_Zero at 12:59 PM on April 13, 2005


Huh. I like y2karl's FPP style, and I like dfowler's FPP style too.

Why? Because both y2karl and dfowler make FPPs that make me think.

dfowler doesn't spell out the connections -- which makes his FPPs fun for both the links and the puzzle of putting them all together. y2karl cogently puts it all together and extracts the salient points -- which makes his FPPs a directed and sustained education.

Sometimes both make me think so much I don't even feel that I add much by commenting to the FPP -- maybe that's why sometimes both of them end up with fewer comments than more prosaic FPPs that we all already have canned, partisan, scripted Kabuki-play responses for?

But definitely, y2karl's and dfwoler's FPPs are the kind that keep me coming back to MetaFilter (yes, and for some Mechanical_Bulls_at_Metafilter, that alone would be reason to ban these kinds of FPPs), because theirs are the FPPs I learn from.

So thanks to both of them, and please keep on keeping on with your own inimitable styles.

I'd have written this all in a post to metatalk, but I wanted to avoid the inevitable pile-on of all-too-often heard complaints about small fonts and "blind" links.
posted by orthogonality at 1:14 PM on April 13, 2005


Keep taking shots at the messenger if ya don't like the message.

Just to set the record straight, I don't mind the message. My protest was simply to the soapbox style of many posts from this poster. It's been hashed out many times in MeTa so I'm not going to start it again here.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:19 PM on April 13, 2005


It's a good post and I should've kept my trap shut.

Sorry, y2karl.
posted by dfowler at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2005


Oil? War? Fuck that, there's a post that needs criticizing!
posted by iamck at 1:35 PM on April 13, 2005


One of the (alas) shortcomings of those on the Left is that they focus entirely upon American (their country) on the oil situation and pay little or not attention to the rather obvious fact that China is now very big competitor for oil (after all, we have outsourced our manufacturing( abnd also India and Russia (50% of their bountiful supply is needed internally)...so that while we may have become overdependent upon oil, so too have other countries, thus helping to drive up prices and cut supplies.
posted by Postroad at 1:39 PM on April 13, 2005


One of the (alas) shortcomings of those on the Right is that they focus entirely on the (alas) shortcomings of those on the Left...
posted by doctor_negative at 2:08 PM on April 13, 2005


Postroad, check out Klare's article (linked in the FPP) "Oil and The Coming War With Iran." Klare addresses your concerns and shows how China and India buying oil from Iran is, from the perspective of the current administration, part of the problem.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:35 PM on April 13, 2005


Growing food will be very labor intensive without fossil fuels and food will be very expensive.

London, 1850, was a city of 4 million people. The Industrial Revolution had started a century ago, but the steam engine had only taken off during the past fifty years. The telegraph was just about to be invented; the first ocean liners were about to go afloat; electricity was known but wasn't being generated so abundently that it was a household utility.

I figure we, as Western Society, can't fall back much beyond that sort of lifestyle. It wasn't that horrible a period of history, and obviously we'd have a lot of niceties that have been invented since then.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:02 PM on April 13, 2005


I read Michael Klare's book: Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum and I think that, in diagnosing the problem, it is quite valuable. It makes its points well and without over-reaching the ample evidence it provides. If for no other reason, it is worth reading to gain a widely researched and historically embedded conception of ideas that have become common knowledge, but are rarely rigorously defended. The discussion of geopolitics, in terms of Russia, China, and the United States, was less well-worn territory than that covered by the rest of the book. Doubtless, it shall be interesting to see what develops between them in the decades ahead.

In my view, this book really falls down in the last chapter, where it is most overtly prescriptive. Suddenly the science gets extremely faulty - regarding the production of alternative fuels, for example. Any intelligent person should be able to see why a statement such as: "since hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the known universe, its supply is limitless" rather misses the point. Many of the considerations in the early chapters just vanish. Yes, the ideas proposed are good. What isn't proposed is any viable plan to achieve them.

It would be impossible for a volume of 200 pages to solve the global petroleum question, but Klare does nobody any favours by saying that the solution is obvious. The big thing Klare misses is the simple economic fact that price and demand are related. He projects oil demand out into the future, then spends half the book wondering where that amount will come from. The fact is, as oil gets scarcer, it will necessarily get dearer. Temporary subsidies can only delay that. It is simply wrong to assert that demand will evolve regardless of the situation on the supply side.

In the last chapter, suddenly, there is unqualified talk of climate change and biomass fuel. Somewhere, a lot of rigour in argumentation was lost. Where previous chapters cite the American love of SUVs even when oil is expensive as proof that price doesn't matter, Klare lauds his gasoline tax as a mechanism for reducing demand.

All told, Klare's book is not a bad use of three hours. Still, it is not a thing to be read uncritically.
posted by sindark at 4:48 PM on April 13, 2005


Right now, the low-grade war between Israel and the Palestinians has high potential to escalate. The entire Muslim world is arrayed against Israel (note the conference in Teheran this past week affirming that). We are Israel's longtime backer. Even if we manage to stay out of it militarily, how long will the Saudis continue to sell us cheap oil?

A lot of people fantasize about the US militarily occupying the Arabian Peninsula. This must be regarded as a dangerous fantasy. We could never protect the complex infrastructure of the oil industry on the ground -- the pipelines, wellheads, and harbor terminals -- even if we deployed the entire American armed services there...

Personally, I worry about China. For all its opaque solidity the regime strikes me as potentially psychotic. Apart from their presumed missile capabilities, they can muster ground forces in Asia until the cows come home, and I believe they will. My sense is that they will engage in the coming worldwide struggle to secure oil resources, and that they will go adventuring militarily in the oil-rich former Soviet republics and north into a Siberian frontier that is being systematically abandoned by dissolving Russia. I don't see how the United States could do anything about these movements, short of a nuclear strike -- and crazy as we may be capable of becoming, I reserve some hope that even a corn-pone American Nazi would not start such a terrible war.


Clusterfuck Nation: A Glimpse into the Future

See also:

Herbert Hoover was vilified for doing nothing about the depression that followed the stock market crash. When we look back on the years of George W. Bush we will marvel at his failure to lead, especially his failure to inform the public that our habits of daily life would have to change, that we could not continue to burn twenty million barrels of oil a day, and spend money we hadn't earned; that we desperately had to reform our suburban land development habits, that the WalMarts and other predatory corporations had to be restrained in their systematic destruction of local economies, that our railroads needed to be rebuilt, that our borders needed to be defended, that our local small farmers needed to be supported, that our industries needed to be re-scaled and retained here, that corporate chiseling had to be policed, that finance had to be qualitatively different than a craps game in some casino.

The Hooverization of George W. Bush has begun. Only it will go much worse for Bush. His fall could be so hard, swift and awful that he may not be allowed to finish his second term. That's how stunned the public and even their entrenched oligarchical elites will be as the economy tanks and our national life begins to unravel. The Republican majority will go down with him, including such arrant villians as Tom Delay and the hosts of corporate CEO chiselers who sold out their workers and their country. They can pray all the want. It won't help.


The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle

also, The Clusterfuck Nation Manifesto

And from Petropolitics:

Fueling Conflict

Also, from Global Policy Forum: Oil and Natural Gas:

Why the United States Supports the State of Israel
posted by y2karl at 4:50 PM on April 13, 2005


five fresh fish writes "London, 1850... I figure we, as Western Society, can't fall back much beyond that sort of lifestyle. It wasn't that horrible a period of history, and obviously we'd have a lot of niceties that have been invented since then."

That's an well-targeted analogy, and you're probably mostly right. Except.

No oil. No quick distribution of medicine and vaccines after the fact of outbreak. But plague moves as quickly as we can.

Remember the influenza epidemic of 1919.
posted by orthogonality at 4:55 PM on April 13, 2005


And on a related note:

Three and a half years have passed since U.S. bombs started falling in Afghanistan, and ever since then, the U.S. military has been engaged in combat overseas. What most Americans are probably unaware of, however, is just how many American soldiers have been deployed. Well over 1 million U.S. troops have fought in the wars since Sept. 11, 2001, according to Pentagon data released to Salon. As of Jan. 31, 2005, the exact figure was 1,048,884, approximately one-third the number of troops ever stationed in or around Vietnam during 15 years of that conflict.

More surprising is the number of troops who have gone to war since 9/11, come back home, and then were redeployed to the battle zone. Of all the troops ever sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, one-third have gone more than once, according to the Pentagon. In the regular Army, 63 percent of the soldiers have been to war at least one time, and almost 40 percent of those soldiers have gone back. The highest rate of first-time deployments belongs to the Marine Corps Reserve: Almost 90 percent have fought.

The data sheds new light on how all-consuming the post-9/11 wars have been for the U.S. military, and suggests a particular strain on U.S. ground forces. An increasing number of military experts believe those forces -- the Army and Marines -- are months away from being overtaxed to the point of serious dysfunction. The situation in Iraq must continue to stabilize. If it doesn't, and the Bush administration continues to both reject the idea of a draft and rebuff efforts to permanently increase the size of the Army and Marines, U.S. ground forces will break down to a point not seen since just after Vietnam.


How Many Have Gone to War?
posted by y2karl at 5:05 PM on April 13, 2005


And, also,

Those who know about "Peak Oil," monetary debts, climate change, militarism, overpopulation, corporatism, soil loss, aquifer depletion, persistent organic pollutants, deforestation, etc., realize we are at a major historical juncture now. Since we know it is past time to change our culture, the question we have is whether most people will bother to listen and create the necessary transition in a rational, non-violent manner.

For those who find the terms in the previous paragraph somewhat mysterious, try this. Research the "laws of thermodynamics" and compare them to the cultural imperative for "economic growth." See if you can recognize and then resolve the tension between the two in your mind. If you can't resolve the tension, decide which one of these has to go. Look back at the terms in the previous paragraph and ask how they relate to what you've just learned. Caution: afterwards you may need a good shrink.


The Neurobiology of Mass Delusion
posted by y2karl at 5:17 PM on April 13, 2005


On the other hand, there are a substantial number of respected energy experts who feel that economics will solve oil issues as they occur:

Actually, last year, the oil companies replaced 117 percent of what they produced. Based on looking at prices today, if you look six years ago, oil was $10 a barrel, and you would have said we we're going to have a glut forever. I think it's not optimist and pessimist. I think most well-informed opinions say the peak probably comes around 2040.

There's a small group who says it came last year or two years ago. But when we do our numbers, we show that oil production at the end of this decade worldwide will be 20 percent higher, more than 20 percent higher than it was at the beginning of this decade. And that's on a field-by-field analysis.
The Future of Oil: A Conversation with Daniel Yergan and Paul Roberts

And alternatives exist that become efficient as prices increase: Coal-gas conversion works at "a cost of $ 3 to $ 3.50 per mm Btu. Since current natural-gas prices in the US are roughly double that, it would appear that coal-to-gas is also an economically viable technology."

... it is worth getting some dissenting views outside of the echo chamber. I doubt whether the list of ills (political, civil, environmental, human rights) facing us are substantially worse than those that could be ennumerated for the 1950s, for example. Doesn't mean we should bury our heads in the sand, but to believe the only alternative is to return to the 1850s seems silly as well.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:11 PM on April 13, 2005


Research the "laws of thermodynamics" and compare them to the cultural imperitive for "economic growth" a sustainable economy. See if you can recognize and then resolve the tension between the two in your mind. If you can't resolve the tension, decide which one of these has to go.
The way y2karl is treating the "laws of thermodynamics" would preclude us from having a sustainable economy as well.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 6:51 PM on April 13, 2005


can't fall back much beyond that sort of lifestyle. It wasn't that horrible a period of history, and obviously we'd have a lot of niceties that have been invented since then.

True. But the world population was what about 1/6th of what it is today? No way we will be able to feed 6 billion people with steam technology.

See the real problem isn't that we will run out of oil. That is what confuses people. It that it will simply get harder and harder to produce efficiently. It gets more and more expensive. So capitalists being what they are will dis-invest and energy companies will not be able to afford the big retro-fits and R&D for new technologies that these guys in Yergan's article are talking about. Coal-gas conversion is expensive and will take many years. The curve get's steep too fast.

Lifestyles MUST go through a period of serious adjustment. People will not like it. They will become desperate. Nation states will destabilize and there will be brief but intense wars (gee, like we are seeing now) until people realize that this will be a permanent adjustment.

So you have all that AND you have the simple things, like fertilizers (made with natural gas), too expensive to produce. Price spikes get distributed throughout the mercantile economy... food, plastics, shipping... everything goes through this crazy spike.

So as a result third world economies and populations will get hammered for a few years or even decades. As the west figures it out and get new technologies up and running the rest world is gonna have a really tough time. Lots of people will die. Some say like 3 billion. I can't see that. But it could EASILY reach hundreds of millions over a few decades.

Sure eventually everything works itself out. But that will happen FASTER and with less pain if people would wake up and admit what we are facing instead of talking about this Star Trek Utopia that's around the corner if we just cross our fingers and hope for the geniuses and the market to do their magic.

posted by tkchrist at 7:02 PM on April 13, 2005


See the real problem isn't that we will run out of oil... It that it will simply get harder and harder to produce efficiently. It gets more and more expensive. So capitalists being what they are will dis-invest and energy companies will not be able to afford the big retro-fits and R&D for new technologies that these guys in Yergan's article are talking about.

Well, first, the whole idea of capitalism is that the market matches demand with supply - capitalists would not divest from energy companies, capitalists would invest in the most efficient producers of energy, whether oil, solar, or fusion, since the world is willing to pay for that energy. The argument that economists make is that there are already alternatives like coal-oil conversion that are available and efficient at $60 a barrel costs or less, and which are not near-term finite, and that are likely to decrease in costs as more innovation is performed.

Cheap oil means that these technologies are not competitive, just like cheap OPEC oil shut down the more expensive Texas oilfields. If prices rise, new energy sources become efficient at those prices. This isn't about fantasy - the article I quoted above talked about how China is now building six new coal-oil plants, and oil shale is being exploited. The interesting thing is that many of these technologies began to be developed during the last energy crisis, and then went bust with the return of cheap oil.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:14 PM on April 13, 2005


I think most well-informed opinions say the peak probably comes around 2040. ... There's a small group who says it came last year or two years ago.

That is not an accurate description of the state today of informed opinion on the subject. I only started really reading in depth about this a few weeks ago, so it may have been closer to the truth in June 2004. But even then, I do seem to recall that the more credible of the people saying that the peak was imminent were predicting it at least a year or two in the future, not the past.

Today, 2010 seems to be the most popular forecast year. (My guess is 2008.) That's the median of the estimates given in the recent SAIC report. Of course, production growth will slow before its final peak is reached, and it's already growing slower than demand.

Yes, coal-to-gas will be an economically viable technology. There's more than one technologically feasible substitute for oil-derived gasoline. And the improved usage efficiency that is theoretically possible could also be enough to reduce oil consumption below the limits of production for many years to come (unless growth in places like China somehow managed to continue its rapid pace for a long time).

The first problem is that substituting for conventionally-produced oil takes time. The Hirsch report estimates that a "crash program" to do so needs to start twenty years before the oil production peak to avoid a damaging shortfall in production. By that estimate, it is probably already too late to avoid some "demand destruction".

The second problem is that we're coming up to this potential difficulty at a time of massive global financial imbalances, thanks to the unprecedented levels of internationally-held United States debt. Those US "twin deficits" everyone talks about are a real problem, and nobody seems to know how it will play out. It isn't going to be pretty no matter what, but limited oil supply could trigger some serious economic hardship.

Those are the short-term (next winter to ten years from now) problems. If we somehow get through that okay, it will perhaps be a good lesson in the importance of planning for the next set of problems that will come up.

the whole idea of capitalism is that the market matches demand with supply

The demand and supply curves for oil are both very steep. Supply takes time to build. Once spare capacity is exhausted (soon), then for as long as production declines faster than alternatives can be developed (could be a long time) we could see negative economic growth, which is not so healthy for capitalism.
posted by sfenders at 7:28 PM on April 13, 2005


sfenders, good points, the SAIC (html via Google) report is a good read for those interested (though many still disagree with the peak oil assessment), and, though, not exactly optimistic, there is no reason to expect the collapse of civilization itself. A doubling of oil price cuts a percent off of GDP - a big impact, but not one that destroys our ability to invest in adaptation.

Even in the case of a shortage, as opposed to increase prices, an energy shock would likely hit us like a deeper, longer recession than those experienced in the late seventies. Even the twin deficits today are at very similar levels to the early 80s. Again, it could be rough economic sailing, but world destruction does not seem in the offing.

Arguing against this, of course, is actions of firms in the energy industry. If firms bought into peak oil, they would be investing heavily in alternate energy sources today. The fact that so few companies are doing so would indicate an extremely severe market failure, if peak oil is true. While it is good to make everyone aware of the dangers of energy dependence, I think following where the investment is flowing provides a stronger case against peak oil than dueling reports.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:25 PM on April 13, 2005


following where the investment is flowing provides a stronger case against peak oil than dueling reports.

A recent headline in the SF Chronicle (via Energy Bulletin): "ChevronTexaco's CEO banking on peak oil situation." That's sort of representative of the kind of news we've been seeing lately. The idea that we're nearing peak oil has just in the past year started to become fairly prominent within the oil industry, as well as among the market analysts and bankers. It's far from universally accepted, but certainly there are signs that it's having an influence on some capital investment decisions. There are those coal projects, the heated competition for acquisition of reserves, the sudden growth in tar sands investments, the new interest in oil shale. The industry in general is very conservative, dealing as they do with projects that take years of planning before production can even begin. Just last year OPEC was talking about maybe considering the possibility that $30 crude wouldn't be so bad. Today, Nymex futures for 2011 are trading around $46. So, there are lots of signs that the picture is changing.

There is another word for a "deeper, longer recession" that might be appropriate. The situation is worse than it was in the 80s in many respects. Depression may not be inevitable, but it's certainly a possibility.

It's not qiute the end of the world that some people make it out to be. But the "resource wars" idea is maybe worth thinking about. The people who are certain that industrial capitalist civilisation is about to collapse seem to have in common with more rational observers that they can be roughly divided into two categories by the type of action they think appropriate: it's either invest in cooperative projects for sustainable agriculture and alternative energy production, or stock up on guns and ammo. If national governments foresee that a massive world war is inevitable, and start preparing for it, then it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Well, that's enough pessimism for this morning.
posted by sfenders at 6:40 AM on April 14, 2005




To aggravate matters, American natural-gas production is also declining, at five percent a year, despite frenetic new drilling, and with the potential of much steeper declines ahead. Because of the oil crises of the 1970s, the nuclear-plant disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and the acid-rain problem, the US chose to make gas its first choice for electric-power generation. The result was that just about every power plant built after 1980 has to run on gas. Half the homes in America are heated with gas. To further complicate matters, gas isn't easy to import. Here in North America, it is distributed through a vast pipeline network. Gas imported from overseas would have to be compressed at minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit in pressurized tanker ships and unloaded (re-gasified) at special terminals, of which few exist in America. Moreover, the first attempts to site new terminals have met furious opposition because they are such ripe targets for terrorism...

No combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run American life the way we have been used to running it, or even a substantial fraction of it. The wonders of steady technological progress achieved through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome, leading many Americans to believe that anything we wish for hard enough will come true. These days, even people who ought to know better are wishing ardently for a seamless transition from fossil fuels to their putative replacements.

The widely touted "hydrogen economy" is a particularly cruel hoax. We are not going to replace the US automobile and truck fleet with vehicles run on fuel cells. For one thing, the current generation of fuel cells is largely designed to run on hydrogen obtained from natural gas. The other way to get hydrogen in the quantities wished for would be electrolysis of water using power from hundreds of nuclear plants. Apart from the dim prospect of our building that many nuclear plants soon enough, there are also numerous severe problems with hydrogen's nature as an element that present forbidding obstacles to its use as a replacement for oil and gas, especially in storage and transport...

Coal is far less versatile than oil and gas, extant in less abundant supplies than many people assume and fraught with huge ecological drawbacks - as a contributor to greenhouse "global warming" gases and many health and toxicity issues ranging from widespread mercury poisoning to acid rain. You can make synthetic oil from coal, but the only time this was tried on a large scale was by the Nazis under wartime conditions, using impressive amounts of slave labor.


The Long Emergency
posted by y2karl at 10:43 AM on April 14, 2005


Look at it this way, unemployment is going to go way, way down because of this. After all, somebody is going to have to go out there on the farm and replace all of those petrol-burning combines.

We are going to run short of oil (undoubtedly, since the earth itself is finite), and probably soon (the arguments behind the Hubble curve are pretty persuasive). However, that does not mean that everything has to come crashing down.

Sure, there's going to be wars, upheaval, and starvation -- but of course we have no shortage of those now.

Electrical generation will continue -- there is still coal (which will, of course, run out too -- but then so will any energy source you care to mention) "green" generation sources (including those wonderful solar towers), and -- let's face it -- nuclear. So we should still be able to heat and light our homes and communicate over the Internet in whatever future we humans have as a species, although surely not as extravagantly or wastefully as we First-Worlders do it now.

But still, it's going to be a weird world when oil is scarce. All kinds of things are made currently using petroleum and petroleum by-products, so it's definitely going to change the way a lot of things done right now. Cola will probably come in glass bottles again. No more "paper or plastic?" at the grocer. Not so much long-distance travel (just how do you make an electrically-powered jet, exactly?). I'm sure creative people can thing of more examples.

It may even make a large number of people conservationists and environmentalists, if only through the hard realities of necessity. Hell, I see that as a benefit.
posted by moonbiter at 11:17 AM on April 14, 2005


The End of Civilization
posted by stbalbach at 11:23 AM on April 14, 2005


Man, that 15k to purchase solar panels for my house is looking better all the time!

I wonder if the zoning in my neighborhood will allow me to grow vegetables, rabbits and chickens?
posted by nofundy at 11:31 AM on April 14, 2005


"The way y2karl is treating the "laws of thermodynamics" would preclude us from having a sustainable economy as well."

drscroogemcduck, that is pretty much exactly the point. What you're calling a "sustainable economy," like the one we've had over the past 40 years or so, is actually a "constant-growth economy" - which has been wonderful for most everyone on earth, generally, improving everyone's lives (though to different amounts, of course). There's nothing wrong with that, on the face of it.

This constant growth has been fueled by cheap oil energy - we have gotten far more energy out of the oil than the energy we've put into producing and refining it so far, averaging about 30 times out what we put in. Basically, free energy. And that's been a great gift.

To continue with such a constant-growth economy, we will need to continue to produce more energy every year, at that same sort of cheap cost. At the moment, there is no other economically feasible source of such cheap energy besides oil, gas and coal.

Certainly the last 40-50 years has been awesome, so I'm not passing judgement about our use of oil. However, to continue this sort of growing and enriching economy, we will need to find some other source of cheap energy.

As energy gets more expensive, the growth economy will slow - it MUST slow. Dealing with that is probably going to be the biggest challenge of the 21st century.

BTW, it is possible to have a sustainable economy without the sort of growth that we've had. It would be a "steady state" economy, where resources and energy are used at a fairly constant rate. It would be different than what we have now - notably, it would be very difficult to get rich, or even to advance yourself beyond the socioeconomic status that you have presently or were born into - but it would still be "sustainable" by definition.

It probably wouldn't be a lot of fun, though. Think "Middle Ages" in terms of much of the social structure (as opposed to the technology).
posted by zoogleplex at 12:25 PM on April 14, 2005


y2karl, while not arguing the economic impacts (maybe depression, slower growth for 5-15 years) discussed by sfenders, I don't think there is a convincing case for those arguing that we will not be able to return to cheap energy, let alone collapse into some sort of feudal Mad Max world.

Caution makes sense, alarmism does not (remember Y2K?) For example, the article you quote again says: Coal is far less versatile than oil and gas, extant in less abundant supplies than many people assume and fraught with huge ecological drawbacks - as a contributor to greenhouse "global warming" gases and many health and toxicity issues ranging from widespread mercury poisoning to acid rain. You can make synthetic oil from coal, but the only time this was tried on a large scale was by the Nazis under wartime conditions, using impressive amounts of slave labor.

This is just over the top. Yes, there are more issues with coal than oil, but that is because cheap oil beats coal as an energy source. But coal-oil conversion is already being done at larger scales in China, and it costs $3.00 per mm BTU, which is cheaper than current natural gas prices, and reserves are over 250 years. The idea that the author needs to invoke Nazi slave labor to show that coal-oil conversion doesn't work is silly. We are not going to run out of energy, or even cheap energy, in the long run. We are going to have to face some massive switching costs, though, and the sooner we do the better, but this catastophe "we're-gonna-get-ours" mindset is just as incorrect as the "never-gonna-be-a-problem" beliefs we are criticizing. The evidence just doesn't support catatrophe or the end of growth in the long term.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:56 PM on April 14, 2005


blahblahblah, I have to add only one qualification: coal reserves are 250 years at current consumption levels. Once you start converting coal to gas on the scale necessary to continue the current level of economic growth AND add in that energy demand under such growth will increase 3-5% every year, that number gets smaller, probably very quickly. Sorry I don't have the exact amount handy, nor the math skills to calculate, but it follows straightforwardly.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:49 PM on April 14, 2005


Zoogleplex, I thought the same thing, but the conventional number is 500 years of future energy consumption, so I halved it to account for objections. How's that for math? It would be interesting to see all the qualifications.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:38 PM on April 14, 2005


zoogleplex:

What I meant by sustainable is what you mean by steady-state. If you accept y2karl's premise zero growth should be just as impossible to sustain as positive growth. I think the rule to learn here is entropy != value. And because of the sun and a large supply of nuclear energy we will never (not for a long time) have to worry about the negative effects of entropy.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 8:37 PM on April 14, 2005


Question: how is synthetic oil manufactured? If it doesn't rely on oil for its base, p'raps we're not in such dire straits after all. My biggest worry isn't so much a lack of fuel so much as a lack of lubrication.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:56 AM on April 15, 2005


lubrication? err... I can't quite tell if you're joking there, fresh fish. But if not... first keep in mind that something like 70% of crude oil produced is used for transportation fuel. The amount used for lubrication is very tiny in comparison. I don't think really expensive engine oil would do any great harm to most of us, and it's not like oil is going to suddenly cease to exist (like Kunstler implicitly assumes that it will to make his arguments work.)

Anyway, that's a question I didn't really know the answer to, so naturally I had to go look it up. Yes, synthetic oils are derived from "oil". This serves as a good introduction to learning far more that you probably want to know about synthetic engine oils.
posted by sfenders at 5:54 PM on April 15, 2005


On further reading, it gets slightly more complicated. This document tells me that some "synthetic" oils do not come from what it calls "dino juice". But it mentions polyalphaolefin as a primary example. That stuff is widely used in engine oils. Apparently it's made "by oligomerizing alphaolefins such as 1-decene in the presence of a catalyst." I started on reading about the production of alpha olefins, but from there it gets more complicated again. It's all hydrocarbons, so I'm sure some of it does, if you trace the chain of production back far enough, come from "dino oil". Natural gas would do at least as well though. Steam cracking, the Ziegler method, etc. There are several other kinds of synthetic lubricants for various applications, some of which are enumerated here.

Right, I think I'll go do something slightly less insane now.
posted by sfenders at 6:29 PM on April 15, 2005


Not joking at all. Petro as fuel isn't necessary: there are many other ways we can get motive force. I see lack of lubrication as a far worse problem: motive force counts for nothing if there's too much friction (overheating and parts wear being the big problem).

Anwyay, thanks for being temporarily insane. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 10:35 AM on April 16, 2005


« Older Creative Archive Licence Group   |   ADX Florence Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post